Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lindsay, David (1490-1555)

David Lyndsay in the ODNB.

LINDSAY or LYNDSAY, Sir DAVID (1490–1555), Scottish poet and Lyon king of arms, was the son of David Lyndsay of the Mount in the parish of Monimail, Fife, and of Garmylton, two miles north of Haddington. At which of his father's seats he was born is uncertain, and so is the place of his school education, which, if in Fife, was probably Cupar; if in Lothian, Haddington. The tenor of his character in after-life perhaps turns the balance in favour of Haddington, the school of John Major, Gavin Douglas, and John Knox, possibly also of William Dunbar and George Buchanan. In 1508–9 the name ‘Da Lindesay’ occurs next to the name ‘Da Betone,’ the future cardinal, among the students incorporated as graduates of the college of St. Salvator, which, assuming as is almost certain, the entry refers to the poet, would give the period between 1505 and 1508 as that of his university studies. In the ‘Exchequer Rolls’ of 1508, in the list of servants of Queen Margaret, there appears ‘Unus vocatus Lyndesay in averia [the stable] quondam domini principis,’ who received by the king's command 4l. 8s. 4d. for his fee and his horses' keep (xiii. 127). If this refers to David Lyndsay, as is probable, it proves that he entered the royal service as equerry to the elder Prince James, one of the sons of James IV, who died in infancy. He was certainly attached to the court before the birth of James V, as the ‘Treasurer's Accounts’ show he received a quarterly payment of 10l. from 1 Nov. 1511 to 2 Aug. 1512. On 12 Oct. 1511 he took part as an actor before James and Margaret Tudor at Holyrood, and 3l. 4s. was paid for his ‘play coat of blue and yellow taffeties.’ James V was born on 12 April 1512, and Lyndsay himself relates that he became an usher (hostiarius) to the young prince, an office he continued to hold till June 1522, with a yearly salary of 40l. In some of the entries in the treasurer's books he is styled ‘Keeper of the kingis gracis person.’ When the weird apparition of an old man appeared in St. Michael's Church, Linlithgow, and warned the king against the campaign which ended at Flodden, Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie [q. v.] refers to Lyndsay and John Inglis (the king's marshal), then young men, and special servants to the king, as ‘being present beside the king, who thought they might have speired [asked] further tidings of the man.’ The historian must have known Lyndsay, but he does not name him as his authority. Buchanan goes further, and says: ‘Amongst those who stood next the king was David Lyndsay of the Mount, a man of unsuspected probity and veracity, attached to literature, and during life invariably opposed to falsehood; from whom, unless I had received the story as narrated, vouched of truth, I had omitted to notice it as one of the commonly reported fables.’ Few ghost stories have had better vouchers. The duties of Lyndsay as attendant on the infant king are described in more than one poem. He carried the prince in his arms, sang and played to him, and amused him by disguising himself as ‘the greislie gaist of Gye,’ or told fairy tales of ‘Red Etin’ and ‘Gyre Carlyng,’ the romances of Tyre, Thebes, and Troy, the deeds of Arthur, and ‘the stories of leal lovers.’ At a later date, in the ‘Complaint of the Papyngo,’ he describes the ideal of the instruction of a prince, which he attempted to realise as James grew from boy to manhood. But Gavin Dunbar, afterwards archbishop of Glasgow, and not Lyndsay, is described as the king's master, or chief tutor, with John Bellenden, archdeacon of Moray, as his assistant. Lyndsay was only his playfellow.

In 1522 Lyndsay married Janet Douglas, already like himself in the royal service, and described in the records after her marriage as the king's seamstress, receiving 10l. a year. Neither Lyndsay's position nor that of his wife indicates that they belonged to the highest rank of the landed gentry. Lyndsay's sympathies were from the first with the people, and his writings show that, while taking part in the life of the court, he did not hesitate to rebuke its vices. He was a personal favourite of the young king, but protested against his immorality and the flattery of his false friends. In June 1526 a revolution placed Angus at the head of the government, nominally carried on in the name of the young king, who was treated as a cipher by the contending parties [see under James V of Scotland]. The royal tutors, Dunbar and Bellenden, as well as Lyndsay, were dismissed. Lyndsay alludes in ‘The Complaint’ to the ‘new rewlaris,’ taking

that young Prince frome the scuilis,
Quhare he, under obedience,
Was lernand vertew and science.

When in July 1528 James escaped from the domination of Angus, he promoted the guides of his boyhood, and not later than 1529 Lyndsay was appointed Lyon king of arms, with an annual grant out of the lands of Luthrie in Fife, as his fee, and the honour of knighthood. Henceforth he discharged the double office of head of the College of Heralds and poet laureate of the Scottish court. In the former capacity he took part in several embassies of the reign, while in the latter he expressed with the greatest freedom his views on the reformation of church and state, and became the poet of the Scottish Reformation, as Dunbar had been of the Scottish Renaissance.

The literary production of Lyndsay, like that of Knox, began late. He was already a man of thirty-seven when he wrote, according to Chalmers towards the end of 1528, his first poem ‘The Dreme,’ but as this was not printed till after his death, by Samuel Jascuy, in Paris, in 1558, the date of composition depends on internal evidence. It cannot have been circulated before the overthrow of Angus in 1528. The reference to the king seems to imply that his boyhood was already past, while the poet says of himself that his youth was now ‘nere over blawin.’ Laing suggests an emendation to ‘lang ower blawin,’ which would harmonise better with Lyndsay's own age, but is against the rules of textual criticism. ‘The Dreme,’ a common form of mediæval poetry, is introduced by an epistle to King James, and a prologue, which represents the poet overcome by Morpheus on a wintry and stormy night, when ‘Dame Remembrance’ conducts him, like Dante, through earth to the lowest hell, from hell to purgatory, thence to earth, and finally to heaven. His request that he might remain in heaven is refused, and the vision takes a rapid survey of the kingdoms of the earth, closing with a description of Scotland. A reply to the poet's question whence the poverty of Scotland arises is given by ‘John the Commounweill,’ who attributes it to the robbery and oppression rife on the borders, in the highlands, and the isles, and the want of justice and policy, which will not be supplied till Scotland is ‘gydit’

Be wysedome of ane gude auld prudent kyng.

For the proverb is ‘full trew:’

Wo to the realme that hes ower young ane king.

In this poem Lyndsay still expresses his belief in purgatory, and adores the Virgin, while he trusts to the king when he comes of age for the needed reforms in church and state. Next year, 1529, in ‘The Complaynt to the King,’ he rejoices that he has lived to see the day when the new regent, Angus, and his party have ‘trotted over Tweed,’ and ‘thou [i.e. James V] to no man art subjected.’

In 1530, under cover of ‘The Testament and Complaynt of our Soverane Lordis Papyngo,’ he denounces with greater boldness the abuses of the court, prelates, and nobles. The ‘envoi’ indicates that this piece, like his other early poems, was privately circulated, probably in manuscript. In a shorter poem he answers the king's ‘Flyting,’ in which, under a thin disguise of imitating the coarseness of the royal verses, he rebukes the licentiousness of his master, and exhorts him to a virtuous marriage with ‘ane buckler furth of France.’ The confession of his own immorality in early life, and regret for its consequences, may have been a rhetorical artifice to enable him to deal the more plainly with the king. In ‘The Complaynt of Bagsche, the Kingis auld Hound, to Bawtie, the Kingis best belovit Dog, and his Companions,’ composed a few years later, his satire is turned against the courtiers, who during their term of royal favour indulged in violence. Probably under the name of ‘Lanceman Lyndsay's Dog,’ he praises himself as a loyal and peaceable subject.

In June 1531 Lyndsay went on his first embassy as Lyon king, with Sir John Campbell of Lundy, and David Panter, the king's secretary, to the court of the Emperor Charles V. The embassy, which was appointed by the parliament in the preceding April, obtained a renewal of the alliance between Scotland and the Netherlands for a second term of 100 years. According to the only extant letter of Lyndsay (written from Antwerp on 23 Aug., when he was returning home), the emperor and his sister Margaret, queen of Hungary, then governess of the Netherlands, admitted the envoys to an audience at Brussels on the 6th. He remained in Brussels over seven weeks, to negotiate matters relating to the Scottish merchants, and was able to deny rumours of James V's death which came from England. He drew up a memoir for the king, unfortunately lost, of ‘the gret tournament’ given in honour of the queen of Hungary's confirmation as regent. During his absence a writ passed the seals in favour of his wife in certain lands on the Mill Hill of Cupar, and as she was confirmed in the conjunct fee of both his estates of Garmylton and the Mount in the same year, and again in 1538 and 1542, the conjecture that their marriage was not happy appears ill founded. Lyndsay was doubtless engaged on embassies in connection with the early projects for the king's marriage. It is certain that in the spring of 1536, when the choice had fallen on Marie de Bourbon, Lyndsay accompanied the Duke of Albany and other envoys, although his name does not appear among the signatories of the treaty of marriage concluded at Cremieux in Dauphiné on 6 March 1536. Probably he remained in France till the arrival of James in person, and took part in the amusements with which his marriage to Madeline, the daughter of the French king, was celebrated in Notre-Dame on 1 Jan. 1537. The lively account of them by Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie was perhaps dictated by his clansman, the Lyon king.

When the fragile Madeline died, within forty days of her landing in Scotland, Lyndsay wrote ‘The Deploration of the Death of Queen Magdalene,’ in which he describes the pageants he had prepared for her reception in Edinburgh. Lyndsay took an active share in the festivities that celebrated, in May 1538, the marriage of James to his second wife, Mary of Guise. When James met her at St. Andrews, at the east end of the gate of the new abbey, there was made for her a high ‘triumphand arch be Sir David Lyndsay quha causit ane greyt cloud to cum out of the hevins down aboue the zeit [gate], out of the quhilk cloude cam downe ane fair lady most lyk ane angell, having the keyis of Scotland in hir hand, and delyverit thayme to the queenis grace in signe and taikin that all the harts of Scotlande were opin for receiving of the queen's grace.’ He also composed verses for the occasion, ‘desyring hir to feir God and to serve him, and to reverence and obey hir husband.’ These verses are not preserved, but his ‘Justing betwixt James Watson and John Barbour,’ two physicians in the king's service, which he composed about the same time, has survived, though it is the poorest of his poems. To the same period probably belongs one of the cleverest of his short satires, ‘Ane Supplication directit to the Kingis Grace in contemptioun of Syde Taillis.’ Lyndsay, like Knox, was moved to indignation by the long trains which all ranks of women began to wear, in imitation probably of Mary of Guise.

On the feast of the Epiphany, 6 Jan. 1540, Lyndsay produced, according to Mr. David Laing, the principal of his poems, ‘Ane Satyre of the Three Estaits.’ It was divided into interludes, an early form of the drama in Scotland, as in England, and was intended for dramatic representation. At least three performances of it are recorded, at Cupar, Linlithgow, and Greenside, then a suburb of Old, now part of New Edinburgh, on the low ground below the west slope of the Calton Hill, where the spectators probably sat. Mr. Chalmers thought the first representation was at Cupar in 1535, but reference is made in it to the battle of Pinky Cleuch, which was fought on 10 Sept. 1547, and Whit-Tuesday is mentioned as falling on 7 June, from which it follows that the Easter when it was played was on 17 April. The true date of the Cupar representation thus seems to belong to 1552. The first representation was probably at Linlithgow on the feast of the Epiphany, 6th Jan. 1540. Sir William Eure, on 26 Jan. of that year, sent to Cromwell notes of the interlude or play which he had received from a spectator, ‘a Scotsman of our sort,’ i.e. of the English party. The third known representation, that at Greenside, took place in 1554, before the queen regent, when Henry Charteris, the bookseller, who was present, states that it lasted from ‘nyne houris afore none till six houris at evin.’ In this piece Lyndsay denounced abuses in church and state with great frankness. Sir William Eure in his letter states that after the representation at Linlithgow ‘the king did call upon the Bishop of Glasgow, the Chancellor Dunbar, and the other bishops, exhorting them to reform their fashions and manner of living, saying that unless they did so he would send six of the proudest of them to his uncle of England, and as those were ordered, so he would order all the rest that would not amend. The chancellor answered that one word of his Grace's mouth would suffice them to be at his commandment, and the king hastily and angrily answered that he would gladly bestow any words of his mouth that could amend them.’ James V, before his French marriage and before Archbishop Beaton had acquired commanding influence over him, was undoubtedly favourable to reform in the church, and he probably encouraged Lyndsay in his attack on the bishops. But it is startling to find that Lyndsay was allowed to exhibit his piece so late as 1540, only two years before the death of the king, and still more to repeat it during the regency of Mary of Guise. Were not Eure's letters conclusive evidence of the date of the representation at Linlithgow, we should be tempted with Chalmers to ascribe the ‘Satire’ to an earlier date, and to conjecture that it may have been modified in subsequent representations. The complete work, according to the Bannatyne MS., the only extant manuscript version, consisted of eight interludes. The first, ‘The Auld Man and his Wyfe,’ from its local references, must have been specially written for the representation at Cupar as an advertisement to the play. The second, ‘The Temptation of King Humanity by Dame Sensuality,’ probably opened the representations at Linlithgow and Greensyde. Two interludes, which do not concern the main plot and may have been sometimes omitted, followed: (3) ‘The Puir Man and the Pardoner,’ in which the crying evil of the sale of indulgences which had penetrated to Scotland is exposed; (4) ‘The Sermon of Folly,’ in which there are again allusions to Fife as

I hard never, in all my lyfe,
Ane Bischop cam to preich in Fyfe,

proving that it must have been written for a Fife audience. The plot is then resumed in (5) ‘The three Vices, i.e. Flattery’ (‘now come out of France’), ‘Deceit, and Falsehood,’ which mislead the king; (6) ‘Truth and Chastity,’ in which those virtues are overcome by the Vices; (7) ‘The Parliament of Correction,’ from which the ‘Satire’ took its name of ‘The Three Estates,’ and where the poet offers his proposals for reform; and finally (8) where ‘The Three Vices’ are given over to punishment. The first editor was Robert Charteris in 1594; and all recent editors, Chalmers, Pinkerton, Sibbald, and Laing, have allowed themselves great latitude in the arrangement of the poem, as probably Lyndsay himself did in its representations. The number of separate characters represented and the variety of topics treated make the general effect a medley, in which there is much that is commonplace, little that we should now deem poetry, but many pieces of powerful invective, exhorting the king to virtuous government and the people to reformation of the evils in the administration of church and state. A sub-plot is carried through the poem by Common Theft, a borderer, who comes to Fife and steals the Earl of Rothes' hackney and Lord Lyndsay's ‘brown jonet,’ for which he is executed.

The next composition by Lyndsay was in a different field. ‘The Register of Arms of the Scottish Nobility and Gentry’ was completed, under his direction as Lyon king, in 1542, but remained unpublished until 1821, when it was printed from the Advocates' Library MS., acquired with the other collections of Sir James Balfour, and was reprinted in 1878. It was submitted by Balfour on 9 Dec. 1630 to the privy council, was recognised as an authentic register, and is the best source for early Scottish heraldry. The manuscript contains a few additions by later Lyon kings, but their blazonry is very inferior to Lyndsay's.

James V died on 16 Dec. 1542, and two years later Lyndsay was sent to the court of Henry VIII to restore, as was customary, the insignia of the Garter. A letter of Henry VIII, dated Hampton Court, 24 May 1544, acknowledges to the Earl of Arran the receipt of the statutes of the order, along with the collar and garter, brought to him by the Lyon king. On 29 May 1546 Beaton was killed at his castle of St. Andrews, and Lyndsay, whose sympathies were with Norman Leslie [q. v.] and the other perpetrators of the deed, composed a poem, ‘The Tragedy of the Cardinal,’ shortly after January 1547, in which year it was printed in London, though without date, by John Daye. The tragedy is supposed to be spoken by the cardinal himself, who appears in a vision to the poet. He recounts his life, lamenting his fate, and exhorts both temporal princes and his brethren, the bishops, to be warned by it. The often-quoted lines,

Although the loon was weill away,
the deid was foully done,

commonly attributed to Lyndsay, do not occur in this or any of his known poems. The statement that Lyndsay was one of the protestant party who, like Knox, took refuge in the castle of St. Andrews after the murder, is disproved by the record of parliament, which shows that he sat as commissioner for Cupar on 4 Aug. 1546, and on 14 Aug. he was sent to summon the party in the castle for treason, which he did on 17 Dec.; but receiving no answer he departed and told ‘the governor he could have no speaking of us’ (State Papers, Henry VIII, v. 581). In the following spring he took part in the conference in the great kirk of St. Andrews with Henry Balnaves and John Rough, which ended in the call to Knox to preach in public. This is the act in his life which most clearly demonstrated his sympathy with the protestant party; and, taken along with the tendency of his poems, especially those of later date, it renders the elaborate essay of Lord Lindsay (Lives of the Lindsays, i. 252–62), to prove he retained a considerable part of the old Roman doctrine, a hopeless attempt. In 1548 he was sent on an embassy to Christian III of Denmark, to ask for ships to protect the coasts of Scotland against the English, and to secure free trade with Denmark for Scottish merchants. He succeeded in the latter, but not in the former object. When at Copenhagen, Lyndsay met John Macalpine, called Machabeus, formerly prior of the Dominicans of Perth, but who embraced the reformed doctrines and became professor of theology in the Danish university. It is a singular fact that Lyndsay's next work, ‘Ane Dialog betuix Experience and ane Courteour,’ the first edition or form of ‘The Monarchy,’ claims to have been printed ‘at the command and expensis of Doctor Machabeus, in Copenhaven in 1552.’ Laing and other bibliographers suppose this to be a fictitious name and place for its publication, and assign it to a well-known printer, John Scot of St. Andrews. It is not, however, impossible that Machabeus may have been at the expense of printing the ‘Dialogue,’ whose title-page does not state that it was printed, but only that Machabeus lived, at Copenhagen. The remaining works of Lyndsay are ‘The Historie and Testament of Squyer Meldrum’ (1550?)—the laird of a small estate, Cleish in Fife, who after various adventures in love and war, in the reigns of James IV and James V, became a tainer of Lord Lindsay, and lived in his house at Struthers till his death, when he entrusted the order of his funeral procession to his friend, Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount—and ‘The Monarchy’ (1554), dedicated to ‘James, earl of Arran, our prince and protector,’ and his brother, John Hamilton, archbishop of St. Andrews. This work also claims to have been printed at the expense of Dr. Machabeus. It is a long poem, of 6,333 lines, with a secondary title, ‘A Dialogue of the Miserabill Estait of this World,’ and contains a narrative of the four empires, Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome, which last was succeeded by the papacy. It recalls Knox's sermon on the same subject. The basis of both was a prophetical exposition of Daniel, by Melanchthon, published in German in 1532 under the name of ‘John Carion's Chronicle,’ which was translated into Latin, and into English in 1550, and became a popular manual of universal history. The papal power was represented as Antichrist, and the temporal power as distracted by war. So that both sun and moon, the pope and the emperor, according to a common similitude of the middle ages, were ‘denude of light.’ In this work, though tedious from its length, some of Lyndsay's most far-sighted views appear. He advocates the use of the vulgar tongue, not merely for poetry, but for religious services and legal procedure (l. 650 et seq.). He attacks the worship of images (l. 2279 et seq.), the superstition of pilgrimages (l. 2360 et seq.), the corruption of the court of Rome (l. 4740 et seq.), the rack-rents of the lords and barons (l. 5700–1), the injustice and delays both of the civil (l. 5752) and the ecclesiastical courts (l. 5765), and the extravagant dress of the women (l. 5829 et seq.)

Two shorter pieces, ‘Kittie's Confessioun,’ a frank satire on the confessional, and ‘Ane description of Peder Coffer, having na regard to honestie in these Vocatiouns,’ an exposure of pedlars' tricks, are attributed to him by the Bannatyne MS. As that manuscript was written about 1568, the ascription is probably correct, although the poems preserved in it are not always correctly assigned. These poems, however, are quite in Lyndsay's style and exhibit him as an all-round reformer, one of those minds which delight in detecting and denouncing every form of corruption. He last appears as a herald on 16 Jan. 1554, when he held a chapter of heralds for the trial of William Carruthers, a messenger. He died before 18 April 1555, as is proved by a gift of that date, of the casualty of marriage, due by his brother Alexander, which mentions his death. He left no children. His office of Lyon king, after being held by Sir Robert Forman of Luthrie (1555–67) and Sir William Stewart, who was deposed and executed in 1568, was conferred on his youngest brother, Sir David Lyndsay of Rathillet (1568–91), and subsequently on a second Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount, son of his brother, Alexander, who resigned in favour of his son-in-law, Sir Jerome Lyndsay of Annatland, in June 1621.

The character of Lyndsay is stamped on his face as it appears in all his works, and on the rude woodcuts prefixed to the quarto edition of his poems published at Paris in 1558, and the Edinburgh edition by Hart in 1634. Unfortunately, no original portrait exists. The description of him by Scott in ‘Marmion’ is well known.

Lyndsay was a satirist, powerful in invective, fluent in style, and abounding in proverbial philosophy. But his poems were of local, and to a large extent of temporary interest. Yet these very limitations gave them an immediate fame and more extensive currency than the works of any other early Scottish poet, and render them invaluable to students of the time of James V. It passed into a proverb for what was not worth knowing, ‘You will not find that in David Lyndsay,’ and his writings were at one time in the library of every castle and the shelves of many cottages of Scotland. The Reformation, in achieving which he bore so prominent a part, gave the first shock to this popularity when it passed from the stage of Knox, whose prose frequently reminds us of Lyndsay's verse—invective in its coarseness as well as its power—to the second stages represented by Andrew Melville. To the Calvinist and puritan his plain speech was abhorrent, his drama irreligious, and his satire hardly intelligible. The decay of the use of the Scottish dialect contributed to the decline of his reputation. In the century which followed the union of the kingdoms his poems were less frequently published. In the present century their philological and historical value has secured a renewal of interest in them. Lyndsay occupies an important place in the history of the Scottish dialect and in the history of the British drama. The satire of ‘The Three Estates’ affords one of the best illustrations of the transition from the mediæval religious miracle play, through the secular masque, the fools' play, and the interludes, to the Elizabethan tragedy and comedy. But in Scotland the Reformation killed the drama, and Lyndsay's satire of the ‘Three Estates’ remains almost unique, although we know the names of a few other early dramas. Lyndsay's historical position as one of the representative Scottish reformers is secure. It has been doubted whether he personally made the formal change from the Roman to the reformed creed. But this was only because that creed had not been formulated, and was during his life in course of formation. The protest against the papacy, as it then existed, was not uttered more boldly by Luther or by Knox than by Lyndsay. If some traces remain of the faith in which he had been brought up, they are not distinctively Roman. He was as pronounced a reformer of the state as of the church, and gave no quarter to the oppression of the nobles, the abuses of the law, or the vices of the court. He was a reformer before the Reformation, and an advocate for the ‘Common Weil’ before the word ‘Commonwealth’ had a place in English speech. A full bibliography of his works, with facsimiles of the title-pages of the chief editions, is given in Laing's complete edition, Edinburgh, 1879, iii. 222–98. A French printer, Samuel Jascuy, in 1558, reprinted, imperfectly, in Paris, ‘The Dialogue,’ ‘The Complaint of the Papyngo,’ ‘The Dream,’ and ‘The Tragedy of the Cardinal,’ taking the ‘Dialogue’ word for word from the later edition of ‘The Monarchy’ in 1554. This and other early editions which appeared in Paris and London prove the interest at that time taken in Scottish poetry in France and England, and suggest that he had an influence on the cause of reformation in those countries as well as his own. A translation of the ‘Dialogue,’ through Latin into Danish, 1591 (Laing's edit. p. 249), indicates that he had a share also in furthering the Scandinavian reformation. Repeated popular editions were published between 1558 and 1776; and later, Pinkerton 1792, Sibbald 1803, Chalmers 1806, and Laing 1870, undertook their republication. The Early English Text Society commenced in 1867, but have not yet completed, an issue of his poems in a revised text.

[Chalmers's and Laing's editions, with Lives of Lyndsay prefixed; Tytler's Life of Lyndsay; Pitscottie's, Buchanan's, and Knox's Histories; Lord Lindsay's Lives of the Lindsays; Tytler's Life in his Scots Worthies, and Laing's in his edition of the Poems are the best biographies.]

Æ. M.